Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev: a beacon in the art world comes to Leeds

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is a visiting professor at the University of Leeds. She has been sponsored by the Leverhulme Institute to give a series of lectures and talks at the University and the Hayworth Gallery in Wakefield, discussing her influences, inspirations and projects thus far.

On hearing I would be receiving a lecture from the American-born Italian art curator I could not help but think the stars had aligned in my favour. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s reputation precedes her. Director of the 16th Sydney Biennale, chief curator at Turin’s Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, senior curator at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Centre (now a MoMa affiliate) and principle art director of dOCUMENTA (13), Christov-Bakargiev is no wallflower in the international art scene. Leeds is very much in the presence of an outstanding academic and professional. It was a true honour to have been granted the opportunity to delve, albeit briefly, into her world.

Her visit to the UK sees her in conversation with students, art enthusiasts and the general public alike. Her focus was the enormous curatorial challenge of dOCUMENTA (13): the thirteenth instalment of the quinquennial contemporary art exhibition in Germany. Just the mere logo of dOCUMENTA (13) set the precedence for what was the most successfully attended and critically acclaimed Documenta to date. The ‘d’ in lower case followed by all upper case letters inverted traditional typography norms and acted as a clear middle finger to thinking inside the box. As only the second woman to have been appointed as artistic director, (‘curator’ is not a term she warms to; “you curate pork to make prosciutto!”) dOCUMENTA (13) couldn’t help but be about more than just art. Involving a vast range of disciplines, from organic agriculture to philosophy, animal behaviour to technology, Christov-Bakargiev dislocated the contemporary art sphere from its western, male-focused axis.

In the lectures she has given she has guided the audience through what seems to be a complex narrative of knowledge, time and space. She once described the process as a dance, making her the choreographer of a powerful ensemble that sought to remove art from the ‘white box’ the museum had trapped it in. She placed it instead in an open forum to be observed, questioned and enjoyed. The notion of the female, the post-colonial, science, media, non-human intelligence, amongst other disciplines, all found significant purchase within the ‘no-concept concept’ of dOCUMENTA (13). Instead of confining the exhibition to a single notion, Christov-Bakargiev asserted four themes (under siege, on retreat, state of hope, on stage) using four worldwide platforms (Kassel, Kabul, Alexandria and Banff) to allow this dynamic interplay of art and academia to reach new heights.

Hearing the illustrious director speak about her creative process seemed like a mere drop in the ocean regarding the enormity of the task she undertook. Over the course of five years from 2007-2012, Christov-Bakargiev travelled endlessly meeting with artists, curators, scientist and academics in an effort to construct a captivating art exhibition that documented contemporary world issues. Attempting to put on paper the way Christov-Bakargiev thinks is near enough impossible, (almost as impossible as moving Argentina’s second largest meteor to Germany for the duration of the exhibition) as it is clear she is not happy at settling for a linear, historical reading of art. The ‘Museum of 100 Days’ was conceived in the wake of trauma. Opened in 1955 by Alfred Bode it was intended to be a one-off remedy for modern art, healing the scars left by Nazi Germany. Its unparalleled success has seen it develop beyond the confines of modern art practice, which has determined its longevity. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev has only proceeded to add to its sterling reputation. Falling just short of one million visitors in just 100 days, the dazzling dOCUMENTA (13) will be a tough act to follow.

Enigmatic, intensely thought provoking and enchanting, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s ultimate lecture is not one to be missed. A unique opportunity to hear first hand about the experiences of Art Review’s ‘most powerful person in the contemporary art world 2012’, her presence at the University of Leeds shall be cherished for a long time.

Grace Collier


Upcoming Events:

-Next Leverhulme Lecture: 19th May 2014 on Wit(h)nessing, Withdrawing, Retreating and Participating. Gifts, Debts, Contradictions and Questions of Sincerity in Contemporary Art, in the Speakman Lecture Theatre, University of Leeds (17.00-19.00)

-Open seminars: 20th-21st May, following up themes of the lecture in the Old Mining Building, University of Leeds

Filed under: Art & Photography